YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Kenya’s opposition leader will be sworn in as president on Jan. 30, but there is one problem: Kenya already has a president, Uhuru Kenyatta.
Catholic and Anglican leaders are urging dialogue to prevent the outbreak of the sort of violence which left over 1,300 people dead, and displaced hundreds of thousands of others, after the 2007 election.
Nearly 85 percent of Kenya’s 49 million people are Christian; nearly a quarter are Catholic, and just over 10 percent are Anglican.
Raila Odinga, the candidate of the National Super Alliance (NASA), is contesting the victory of his rival. Kenyatta was declared the winner of the original Aug. 8, 2017 poll, but his victory was annulled due to electoral malpractices, and the courts ordered a re-run of the election on Oct. 26.
Despite originally welcoming the court’s decision, Odinga refused to participate in the second election, maintaining he won the original poll. Kenyatta then won in a landslide.
On Jan. 26, the opposition released what it claimed were the “authentic” election results from Aug. 8 showing Odinga actually won the vote, alleging they obtained the information from the electoral commission’s servers. The commission said the information was fake, and said the opposition was misleading the public “on the results pathway, the servers, information on the public portal and the forms used to declare results.”
Odinga’s announcement of his self-declared swearing in is raising fears of violence in the country. Attorney General Githu Muigai told opposition leaders that the ceremony would amount to treason, since Kenyatta’s government is already in power.
“On January 30, I will be sworn in and this time it’s a real deal and anyone saying it’s treason, let him come and arrest us,” Odinga told his supporters in response.
“If it will cost me my life or send me to jail for life, I am ready for it. My life is not better than that of baby Pendo or the more than 300 people who have died since the August 8 elections,” he said.
Six-month-old Samantha Pendo suffered fatal injuries after riot police confronted a pro-opposition rally. She died on Aug. 15, and her cause has become a rallying cry for members of the opposition.
Bishop Alfred Rotich, the head of the country’s military diocese, has urged dialogue to calm the crisis, and said religious leaders have a key role to play in the process.
“The religious leaders should be at the forefront in facilitating such dialogue in order to make it homegrown. As Catholic bishops, we managed to help in finding a solution for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Electoral Laws last year,” he told The Star, a local newspaper.
“Our role will be to consolidate the agenda both from the Opposition and Government and lay it out for discussion. All stakeholders should be invited to present their issues on an open forum that is well facilitated and favorable to all parties,” the bishop said.
Rotich suggested that clergy and members of the business community could form a “committee that will lead in bringing together all stakeholders at a discussion table.”
He said such an approach would enable Kenyans to find a home-grown solution to the political impasse.
“As a Church, we see there is a solution that needs to be facilitated in the form of a conversation, leading to a dialogue. The Church has already placed a theme that entails reconciliation, peaceful coexistence and national integration.”
It is not only the Catholic Church calling for dialogue; Anglican Bishop George Wechumo has called on Kenyatta to hold a dialogue with Odinga “so as to end the political stalemate emanating from last year’s August and October election.”
The Anglican bishop said the situation is causing anxiety among Kenyans and predicted both sides “might start to fight each other as they defend their masters.”
“As religious leaders, we are foreseeing the swearing-in of Raila bringing chaos which is likely to cause the deaths of many if something is not done urgently,” Mechumo said.
He called on Kenyatta to take the first step, and even discuss power sharing or amending the constitution.
“Let them do so with speed…for the sake of the country’s peace and stability,” the Anglican leader said.
Anglican Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit called on both sides to urge their supporters to peaceful conduct, and specifically asked opposition leaders to calm their followers.
“It is also my humble call to NASA that if they must do it they must ensure their supporters do not engage in any violent ways because all of us must respect the rule of law and ensure no Kenyans die. Let us protect this country today for tomorrow and many years to come,” said Ole Sapit.
The current pleas by Church leaders are a repeat of similar calls they made in the buildup to the August election, and then the October re-run.
After the annulment of the original election, Bishop Philip Anyolo, the Chairman of the Kenya Bishops’ Conference, said the bishops were “deeply concerned with the state of our nation, and we urgently need our leaders to address these issues to secure the country.”
Then, as now, the bishops called on Uhuru’s Jubilee party and Odinga’s NASA to come to the table and save the country from violence.
That call fell on deaf ears. Violence erupted after the polls, leading to several deaths.
But it was nothing compared to the 2007 elections, in which Odinga – who also ran that year – claimed Mwai Kibaki stole the victory.
Kenya has had a history of political violence over the last decade. More than 1300 people died in post-election violence in 2007-an election Odinga claimed he was cheated of its victory.
To end the crisis, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan helped negotiate between the parties, which led to the 2008 National Accord and Reconciliation Act of 2008, re-established the office of Prime Minister of Kenya, to which Odinga was appointed.
In 2013, Kenyatta defeated Odinga under the rules of a new constitution which went into effect in 2010; it was a relatively peaceful election.
Ole Sapit said for the sake of peace, the Kenyatta government should let Odinga hold his swearing in, since it will have no legal effects.
“If NASA must swear in their principals let them be protected to swear them in a peaceful environment and after the swearing in they will go home. If we do that without panicking in any way, we shall have peace because it doesn’t mean someone will have an opportunity to take over the government by force,” the Anglican Archbishop said.